Our administrative services function effectively only up to the initial district level. The procedures for DMs and DCs have not needed much change from the way that the British set up governance to meet their requirements.
The extracting of suitable persons from within the present civil services to create a new cadre, which will look after the nation’s commercial interests, is overdue. Whether this can form a part of a potential administrative reform, the answer must be yes. For 70 years we have lived within the dangers of a system that has a colonial makeup. We have always hoped that some miracle will come and things will change. Within the present setup, this will not happen, and time will simply roll by. All this while other similar nations are getting stronger and more attractive due to new and attractive systems of governance.
If we look at our own nation, our administrative services function effectively, only up to the initial district level. The procedures for DMs and DCs have not needed much change from the way that the British set up governance to meet their requirements. One important point to remember is that all the DMs have judicial powers in addition to administrative powers.
This is an important reason for the success of the bureaucracy at the initial level. The Indian civil services (IAS/IFS, etc) started about 1948. Till then the Indian Civil Service (ICS) functioned effectively as it had both administrative and judicial powers even at higher levels. This is where the catch comes. Our IAS has changed after the district level and conveniently eased into purely administrative roles, thereby enabling them to pass the buck with regard to solving disputes and problems. Our higher administration only follows home grown procedures which have done away with any inbuilt system to ensure the development of the nation. Merely following laid down procedure has degenerated, with no responsibilities for commercial, industrial or military results (wherever the bureaucrat is stationed).
When the administrative process brings no conclusive results, then the people are forced into the judicial system to get a conclusion. But here also the problem extends further, as the judicial process has numerous windows for appeals, which further delays conclusion. Many private ventures could not survive the delays, and had to shut down. Moreover if the government was itself a party to the dispute, then the bureaucracy sees itself as the “other” party and fights to the bitter end. All costs of legal and government time are to the taxpayer’s account. But the private party pays and so the people and the nation get a double whammy. It is common knowledge that the government “party” in any litigation will actively delay hearings and seek fresh dates. There is no sense of the “sovereign” left in our bureaucracy that should resolve issues so as to ensure national progress. To fight our own people becomes the game, resulting in other developed nations getting to do billions of dollars of business with India. In fact the foreign supplier is full of glee at this sorry state of affairs in India.
This is a “silent killer”. The fact that the bureaucracy only sees itself as an administrator—and never also as the sovereign, whose role it would then have been to ultimately facilitate and protect Indian investments and industry. Yes, a corrupt businessman should be punished. But this silent killer makes good entrepreneurs into crooks who run away. How can anyone succeed in India in spite of our own officialdom? This has gone on for so long that even we, the Indian people are brainwashed into feeling happy when a business fails and the “crooked” entrepreneur runs away to take shelter in another country. The French or Germans would never let down their own national industry so easily. In fact they fiercely protect their own industry from either failing or from external takeovers. Putting industry back on track leads to aatmanirbharata and employment. That is facilitation. Perhaps our bureaucracy must create a system where a panel of bureaucrats ensures that solutions are found (CAT or whatever). This courage in administrative reforms will remove the silent killer and reduce the number cases in the courts by up to 50%. Time will be saved and the building of the nation will be speeded up.
Since Independence we have created our own systems of administration in both the states and the Central government. Numerous ministries were created and the IAS slipped into a management role only because all posts were deemed to be “cadre based”. The government and its bureaucracy thus moved into an all pervasive and wide spectrum of governance through the mere functioning of administration. This abdication of national interest pervaded right up to the level of chief secretaries and union secretaries. The ability to review, remedy or correct decisions could not be done. This meant that the judiciary also came under pressure, so much so that the delays were such that most Indians will never see justice or progress within one lifetime. Here you need two lives. There is an interesting article in the Chandigarh Tribune of March 15, 2020 where Justice Ramendra Jain clearly asserted that by and large the revisional or appellate courts shirked from their responsibility of deciding the appeal of respondent-cum-complainant against the petitioner on merits, and adopted a short cut method by remanding the case. This is the state within the judiciary. But this is yet another corollary.
Coming back to the need for administrative reform, there are specific cases where a government department enters into a contract with a private company and then for various reasons there may be a dispute. Yet invariably no government official will attempt to resolve the issue. This is because the system does not permit an officer to take a strong decision without suspecting him of a vested interest. Even an honest officer will not have the courage to resolve a dispute unless it is instructed by an even more senior officer, and soon.
We need an administrative reform where the administration finds resolution to disputes. So let there be three-person tribunals, but all from within the same executive system so that it does not go into the judicial process. No one doubts that our IAS officers are brilliant Indians, but then why is governance lacking? It is the system and not the officers that must be rectified.
The solution could come from segregating IAS officers after their stint at the DM level. Those who show a propensity towards building industry and creating employment in their districts, should be earmarked for the new Commercial Cadre at this very stage. In fact only these officers should eventually be reserved for the crucial posts of JS and secretaries (in the union government) and for the level of principal secretaries (in the state governments), plus of course the PSUs. The officers who do not show such facilitation/nation building competencies, can and should continue normally in all the remaining functions/posts of the IAS as generalists and of course administrations. This segregation will automatically bring winds of change even to other government services, for then they will also have to adjust towards more productive tenures.
The segregation of officers is essential because the present system assumes all IAS officers have the same and equal competence. But the admission process only tests knowledge (or implied intelligence). What we miss is that every individual has certain traits that have no link to learning and rote. These are firstly an inbuilt acumen for entrepreneurship and secondly a propensity for application of the knowledge (that they acquired). This is the discerning factor for the new Commercial Cadre. If this is understood then our governance will foster aatmanirbharata, which cannot come only from the do or die spirit of our entrepreneurs.
Darshan Singh is an entrepreneur, who has worked in quite a few key areas that have been critical to the process of nation building, including the railways and oil and natural gas exploration. He is also an educationist, and is currently the Chairman of the Welham Boys’ School in Dehradun.